Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
Range Map

Despite what some texts might say, vultures are not raptors, which is a term referring to the weapons or talons on their feet. Black Vultures, as with all of their kin, are more closely related to storks. However, these birds are birds of prey and will eat live food if they can find it, especially young and newborn animals such as newly hatched sea turtles scampering towards the sea. Their primary food source, though, is carrion. Lacking the sense of smell, Black Vultures will often follow their relatives, the Turkey Vulture, who possesses a highly developed olfactory sense for locating decaying flesh.

Black Vultures are uncommon in western North America, except southeastern Arizona. In the southeast USA, they are year-round residents from Texas to the mid-Atlantic states. These birds range south through Central and most of South America.

Modern science calls out three subspecies of Black Vulture:

  • C. a. atratus lives in North America south to northern Mexico.
  • C. a. brasiliensis lives in central Mexico south to northern South America southward to coastal Peru, Bolivia and southern Brazil.
  • C. a. foetens lives in the Andes from Ecuador and Peru to northern Bolivia. Also found in Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

I had a close encounter with a Black Vulture during a visit to Arivaca in southern Arizona that provided me with what I thought would be my best pictures of this species. I saw many of these scavengers during my trips to Texas, but I didn’t seem to get very good images. In March 2021, at Aransas NWR, I found a large group of these birds loafing on tree-tops adjacent to a viewing platform. I climbed the tower slowly so as not to spook the birds and had fun capturing birds perched at eye-level, and some in flight. The encounter made my day!

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